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[외국인이 반한 한국] 마르자 봉게리히텐의 `김치연대기` 제작 여행
마르자 봉게리히텐(Marja Vongerichten)
From Korea with Love
by: Marja Vongerichten
I was able to see Korea like I had never seen it before during May when I traveled there with a production crew to host an upcoming PBS television show. While my previous trips centered on visiting my family and polishing my norebang routine, this most recent trip gave me the opportunity to understand and approach my home and my culture with new information, access and authenticity. People opened their restaurants and homes for us, they showed us around their local markets and explained their signature ingredients, they brought us into their fields and factories, into their families and their hearts.
Among the highlights of our trip was meeting Lee Sook Hee at her restaurant Doorei. On my first visit, Sook Hee taught me how to make homemade gochujang, a labor of love involving techniques I didn’t expect. It was enlightening to learn the steps behind what is perhaps the most significant ingredient in Korean cuisine and also slightly humbling—after seeing all the work that goes into making it, I can never take gochujang for granted. After this lesson, Sook Hee invited me to have lunch with her. Her food was, quite simply, stunning. Old school, but with such a light touch and distinctive, unmuted flavors. The meal ended with Sook Hee singing traditional Korean music unaccompanied and with great confidence and emotion. It literally left me in tears. The experience was soulful and connected, fully realized. I thought immediately that this is where I would bring my husband, Jean-Georges, when he arrived to Korea with our daughter Chloe. I took them, practically straight from the airport, to Doorei. Jean-Georges was equally blown away, so appreciative of Sook Hee’s talent and grace. He instantly recognized her as an extraordinary embodiment of Korean cuisine and culture.dlf
Jean-Georges was also very engaged by his trip with the haenyos in Cheju. He was stripped down and dressed in a wetsuit, a face mask to seal the deal. He dove with the women, admiring their ability, skill and lively sense of humor. I couldn’t help but be a little jealous when hearing about how they all ate sea urchin straight from the ocean. Being able to consume ingredients at their source is a bit of an ultimate for chefs, the closest connection you can have with food.
We shared a similar experience when we visited the Amore Pacific green tea gardens, also in Cheju, and were able to witness the entire process from the soil to the teacup. We learned how each type of tea is grown, harvested, roasted and packaged and how the ingredients are used to their full potential in the brand’s cosmetics that I continually swear by. Seeing the care invested in each step was extraordinary; for example, the expert tea pickers do not ever wash their hands with harsh soap in order to ensure the delicacy and subtleties of each leaf.
Perhaps the most meaningful morning I spent during this trip was on the beach in Sokcho cooking and eating with my Korean family. Joined by my grandmother, two aunts and cousins, we prepared and ate soup made with local crabs, grilled squid and pork belly and vegetables, and, of course, kimchi (some of the best we had and I’m not just saying that because my aunt made it). The meal, however, went way beyond the food. It was about being with family, about being in the place where you come from and feeling welcome and part of something bigger than yourself. Families not only define cultures, they transcend them—we are all connected to our homes and origins, wherever they are and however we define them.
This trip was intensely meaningful for me. It effectively opened my eyes to the traditions, ideas and customs that define Korean cuisine and life. I ate old dishes and better understood their origins. I ate new dishes that redefined the potential of Korean cuisine. I was with my family and I met new people and I spoke with them and listened to their stories. I felt increasingly aware, informed and touched by a culture that I am so privileged and delighted to call my own.